NVIDIA just released a major operating system improvement for their Android TV device, the NVIDIA Shield TV. This is a quick hands-on that explores a lot of the major changes to the Shield. Many of these changes are part of Marshmallow in general, and many performance changes are hard to notice with daily use. There are new APIs for developers in this release, such as time shifting in Live Channels and the new Vulkan graphics that require apps to demonstrate.
The default background that NVIDIA on the homescreen has swapped out the abstract gray shapes for a fantastic winter landscape. Another small UI change is the volume rocker, which has removed its translucent background.
NVIDIA’s screen recording tool also received some changes. The Twitch button has now become a generic “Broadcast” button. Another part of the tool, which is more disappointing, is that NVIDIA has removed Picasa uploading. It no longer shows up as an option for sharing. Picasa is shutting down, but there should be a way to integrate Google Photos or some other sort of uploading service. (I was able to use the X-Plore File Manager to upload photos and video to Google Drive instead).
The recommendations row is a great way for developers to suggest content for users to watch. Unfortunately, it’s also a way for developers to spam users. There’s a new menu which allows you to disable certain apps from adding recommendations. If you like the app but dislike the suggestions, you can use this to improve your content curation.
Apps now request permissions at runtime instead of before installation. This means that apps don’t necessarily need access to everything in order to run. You can deny access to storage if you feel that app doesn’t need it. Although this has limited use on a TV, as you aren’t storing your contacts or many personal files, it’s still a great improvement for user privacy.
Adopt External Storage
Being able to adopt external storage will likely be the best feature of the Shield. If you were cheap and got the 16GB version, you may have noticed how quickly it fills up with HD video and games. NVIDIA future proofed their TV with an SD card port and USB ports. Now, if you insert one, you’ll be asked if you want to use that device as internal storage. If so, Android treats that expandable storage exactly like internal storage. Apps will go to the new storage location, as will media that you download. Performance depends on the storage device itself, but should be able to read and write fast enough that you won’t notice.
I got a MicroSD card for my phone and it’s been working really well. It went from 16GB to about 71GB of internal storage. When I download a movie or podcast, it will move it straight to the SD card. I don’t have to worry about file management.
There is a caveat to this: you have to keep that device connected. If you try to disconnect the USB drive, you’ll run into problems loading some apps or playing some local content. If you’re transferring a file, it’s probably best to keep it as external storage.
A weird issue I saw was the expandable storage menu coming up several times for my USB drive even though I only had plugged it in once. I kept selecting external storage, but it didn’t seem to care. Some of my screen recordings ended up in that folder and I almost believed I lost them. (That may be the normal experience on the Shield though, I haven’t had a USB plugged in that often.)
Other New Things
If you long press the back button on your remote, it opens the power menu. It’s a minor feature, but is great for power users.
More Display Options
There’s more support for video playback and UHD displays. One of the options featured in the release notes, “Option to set RGB Full Range”, actually had a noticeable effect on my TV. It greatly improved the contrast, making it more like most TVs instead of my TV.
Google’s easter egg for Marshmallow is a themed version of Flappy Bird, using the Android mascot as the bird. It’s much tougher than the normal game, likely due to stronger gravity. Have you gotten past any? Let me know how (because I can’t).
NVIDIA took a bit longer than some people liked, but they seemed to do a good job of blending stock Android Marshmallow for Android TV with their own software to make a high quality experience on their device. Note that this is a quick hands-on, so issues may appear in the future and hopefully NVIDIA will be able to respond to them. Technically, NVIDIA isn’t using the latest version of Android (February’s security patch), and it’s currently not known if they’ll also shift to a monthly release cycle.
Are you experiencing any issues? Let us know in the comments below.